My longest relationship, before I met my life partner, was four weeks – and that includes at least one week of pretending I was sick so I could avoid any bodily contact. I have always been an independent person. When my girlfriends had one boyfriend after another, I felt I was maybe too picky or had higher standards because I just couldn’t make myself stay in a relationship if I felt my own company was better. I struggled with depression and eating disorders growing up, and often felt like I missed out on opportunities to date because I would get a phone call for a date that same evening, but I felt nauseous from eating a full pizza and a bowl of ice cream for desert already. It was hard to make progress in any relationship because I didn’t let people see who I really was behind closed doors.
I was 21 when I met Andrew in Edmonton (almost 9 years ago). It was the beginning of the summer and I was in Calgary visiting home, in between semesters at University of Victoria. I had already transferred schools three times, starting my collegiate career on a full-ride scholarship at San Diego State University, back to Canada for one year at Mount Royal, and at this point I was playing basketball at UVic. I was dealing with PTSD from my experience at San Diego State, and was avoiding my demons by drinking, partying, and abusing my prescription for Ritalin.
When I met Andrew I was struck. He was handsome, an amazing body, funny but not over-the-top, smart but not presumptuous, and an absolutely amazing kisser. I’ll keep this PG by saying there were fireworks all weekend, and we continued to see each other almost every weekend for the rest of the summer.
I went back to UVic at the end of the summer and had decided to retire my basketball shoes and focus on school for once. I was not happy with my life and Andrew was the only person that I felt truly connected to. So, I transferred one more time, and moved out to Edmonton to finish my philosophy degree at the University of Alberta.
The first year of our relationship was easy, probably because 6 months of it was long distance. I finally felt like I had found someone that I could be with for the long haul. I felt healthier, happier, more balanced, and excited about what the future holds. But after one year, I learned that I can’t avoid my struggles or use other people as a band-aid fix for deep rooted issues.
My anxiety, depression, and eating disorder came back full-force and hit me harder this time as I didn’t have an obvious problem to blame. I had the man of my dreams but I felt alone and lost.
I began cutting myself as a way to feel a few moments of release. I had so much pain and chaos in my mind, and this escalated to needing to see a wound in order to fixate my pain onto something real. I was confused. I was scared. I was desperate. For years I had been telling myself that I would be happy once I found someone to love and who would love me back. I thought that the feeling of lack, of not being enough, and of being lost and alone, were symptoms of desiring to have a partner. It became clear that outward fixes were not what was needed. If I were going to keep the relationship I had, and truly find happiness in this life, I needed to do the inner-work, and ultimately, I needed to learn how to love myself.
Being the philosopher that I am, I devoted my life to understanding what was happening inside of me and how to get myself out of this negative space. I read book after book, studying neuroscience, psychology, sociology, philosophy, leadership, and every self-help book that caught my eye. I wrote for hours each day, allowing myself to comprehend and integrate what I was learning into my real life experiences. What I discovered was a deeply ingrained negative self-talk habit that would spiral out of control and often trigger me to over-eat, over-exercise, and beat myself up. I realized that I didn’t have a loving relationship with myself, and had a habit of judging my worth and value based on what I achieved and what attention I got from others. This created an impossible expectation to uphold and an extreme emotional pendulum swing that was completely out of my own control.
Around this time I decided I needed to break up with Andrew to rediscover myself and to rebuild my sense of independence. I didn’t want to feel like I needed anyone or anything. Of course he didn’t understand when I explained to him that this was about me, and not about him, but he did his best to support me. As difficult as this was, I see this as the turning point in our relationship and in my relationship with myself. We were a part for one week, and within the first few days I realized that I didn’t need him and that I would be ok on my own if something happened in the future. I decided that I choose to be with him and I need to choose to love myself even more.
I was done being the victim. I was so sick of being depressed and allowing myself to continue in the negative and unhealthy habits I had developed. It was time to change and I knew that it was going to take conscious effort and choice every day.
What I learned from this experience was that self-love is the most important relationship to foster. If you feel alone now, being in a relationship is not the fix. Of course a loving relationship is amazing and is something to be open to, but it does not solve the problems and the struggles that you think it will. A life partner will help you experience the highest moments of your life, but this relationship will also make you struggle and grapple with the lowest points in your life. Without a strong sense of self-love, a relationship with someone else will suffer.
Whether you are in a relationship now, or are single and on the search for that special someone, here are five tips to help you foster the most important relationship in your life. Cheers to loving yourself up!
1. Take time for YOU
Put away your phone, turn off the tv, shut down your laptop, and connect with your breath. Whether you play some music, move your body, or simply sit still, you need to feel that connection with YOU. Allow yourself at least a few minutes of feeling your posture, feeling your breath, and being present with the current moment. Notice your thoughts and practice compassion. Don’t judge yourself, don’t shame yourself, and don’t set expectations. Feel the beauty and magic within your own body and your own mind. Perfectly imperfect as you are.
2. Pen to Paper
Every night before bed, take a few minutes to acknowledge what you are proud of. What are the small-wins from the day? Where did you show up brave and open? What did you learn? What did you lean into? The act of acknowledging yourself releases serotonin in your body, which is a vital happy chemical for happiness. This also trains you to celebrate yourself and to focus on what is working, versus our natural tendency to beat ourselves up and focus on where we fell short.
While you’re driving, when you are waiting in line at the grocery store, or when you have a few moments in the morning or evening, rather than reaching for your phone, tell yourself 5 things you are grateful for in this moment. Be specific. When we practice gratitude daily, we train ourselves to see the beauty in whatever situation we are in. We build our resilience and flex our happiness mind-muscle. Plus, this releases oxytocin and serotonin, more love and happiness feelings.
4. Mind-Body Connection
The words we use when we talk to ourselves effects how we feel and how we act. How we eat and how often we sweat, obviously also effects our mental health. Think of your thoughts, the food you eat, and the amount of exercise you get, as FUEL. What kind of fuel are you subjecting yourself to? Often when you feel a lack of something or a craving for something, it is a signal that you are not getting the fuel you need. Commit to eating healthy, commit to getting your body sweating, commit to learning and growing each day, and commit to practicing positive self-talk. It’s amazing how good you can feel when you start to take your health and balance seriously.
5. Let-go of Comparisons
One of the common struggles we share is the act of comparing ourselves to others. We all do it! Whether it’s through social media, seeing someone else achieve or experience something delightful, or simply imagining what others are up to, we so easily fall victim to thinking the grass is greener in other pastures. Guess what? We all struggle! We all deal with anxiety, stress, disappointment, heart ache, loss, and every other human emotion. Don’t waste time and energy thinking about what others have or fooling yourself into thinking that someone else has it easier than you. No problem is fixed by making someone else wrong, blaming, or wishing you had what someone else has. Be a do’er. Focus on the benefits of wherever you are and know that your life is what you need to focus your energy on. Where your mind goes, energy flows. So focus on growth, focus on gratitude, focus on mending your own grass and making your life the best it can possibly be.
I have created an online course that will begin April 3. The course is called “The Path to Change” and includes yoga videos for you to play with at home, access to an online community of people committed to increasing their health and WELLth, information, tools, and support from me, and a one on one coaching session with me to support you in the change you want to see in your life. When we have a support and accountability system, change is a whole lot easier and definitely more fun. Whether you are clear and ready for change or just curious about what I offer, this course is for you. I would love to have you be a part of this journey with me. Head to www.dopeame.com for more details or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit of my story and I hope one day I can hear yours. Happy soul searching, and remember, drench yourself in love. xoxo